The Anti-Cult Movement

Deprogramming Falun Gong Members

The Chinese government has acknowledged its co-operation with "International Anti-Cult organizations" and is putting Falun Gong members in "rehabilitation camps". On July 18, 2001, the "People's Daily" published a series of articles that confirms the Chinese government involvement in a massive campaign of State-sponsored forcible deprogramming.

A Case Example


Time line:

  • 1997: Wan Dan, a 36-year-old woman of Dalian, in Northeast China, becomes member of the Falun Gong
  • July 20, 1999: The government bans the group and she starts to take part in pro-Falun Gong activism in Beijin.
  • October 26, 1999: Sent to the Dalian Transformation-Through- Education House, then transferred to the Masanjia Transformation-Through-Education House in Liaoning Province.
  • April 17, 2000: Released from the transformation house one year ahead of the set term because she broke with Falun Gong.

The People's Daily recount a story that is very similar to deprogrammed apostates:

In Masanjia, she still refused all kinds of transformation efforts by the government, but finally she woke up from the nightmare.

After struggling against her own, the woman realized that all the sayings of the cult are contradictory.

"I had studied and practiced Falun Gong for my own ' consummation' all these days, which is really selfish," she said.

On April 17, 2000, Wang left the transformation house one year ahead of the set term because she broke with Falun Gong.

Since then, she has restarted her company while voluntarily helping transform other followers of the cult.

"The careful transformation by the Party has given me a new life," she said.


The "Rehabilitation" Process


Reasons for detention

The classical anti-cult argument is used: people are not detained for their belief, but for their behavior. This is of course a fallacious argument, as the behavior in this case consisted of taking part in the activities of a group made arbitrarily illegal:

Reporters were especially interested in what specific actions that have brought the detainees to the camp. The answers usually were they were involved in two kinds of activities: printing and disseminating illegal propaganda materials for the cult and illegal gatherings on Tiananmen Square which disrupted public order.

Zhang Jingsheng, director of the Tuanhe Camp, said that in fact, no one has been sent here merely for practicing Falun Gong, which is in fact a minor offense as prescribed by a legislative decision on preventing and punishing cult activities.

Likewise, the "rehabilitation" process also addresses the member's beliefs:

[The police tutor] picked up the air conditioner remote control for the room, saying that a person involved in Falun Gong only sees one side of this remote control.

"What I'm going to do is to let him see both sides and the inside," he said.

What he used to do with other Falun Gong followers, which was very effective, was to let the "student" read one paragraph of a message by "Master Li Hongzhi," founder of the Falun Gong cult, let the "student" talk about his understanding of it first before the tutor gave his opinion.

The police tutor added: "in the end, we always reached a consensus" - but of course, the "consensus" is to be put in a context where the person has been forcibly lead to "listen" to his police tutor in the first place and is in a situation where he is totally dependent of his jailors.

Conditions of detention

The paper says:

The reeducation-through-labor camp is clad with grass and trees. Some are seen maintaining the grass, some attending deers, rabbits and birds raised on the camp, some playing basketball, and many more are attending compulsory lectures on "rights and duty of a citizen."

Do I believe this to be the truth? Yes, because it makes sense that if the rehabilitators want to de-convert the members, they want to present a favorable image of themselves in the first place. However, these people are still forcibly detained, and thus at the total mercy of authorities, and if they don't satisfy to authorities' expectations, things can eventually get much worst for them...

Rate and nature of success

The paper says:

At the Tuanhe Camp, more than 90 percent of Falun Gong addicts have broken their allegiance with the cult, and resumed their normal way of thinking, he added.

  • Is this possible?

Yes. Because 1) members may become convinced by the arguments that is being presented to them and 2) since relinquishing their allegiance to the "cult" is the only way they are ever going to get out from prison and possibly avoid torture and death, they may say things they may otherwise not really believe.

  • Can some of these de-conversion be sincere?

Yes. Deprogramming works by getting the group member to re-interpret his beliefs. Someone who believes his group is a God-sent blessing which will save him and the planet, can just as well be brought to believe the group is actually an evil cult that ruined his life and is destructive to society. Both are subjective interpretations and both can be about equally cultic - with members and ex-members alike displaying great zeal in promoting their respective beliefs.

Deprogramming or Exit-Counseling?

  • Is the Chinese "rehabilitation" system actually deprogramming or is it more like exit-counseling?

It is most definitely deprogramming. Why? Because the term "deprogramming" is used when an element of coercion exists, whereas Exit-counseling is used when the process is voluntary. There is nothing voluntary in the present case, of course. Anti-cultists sometimes use the word "deprogramming" indifferently to refer to the forcible process or the voluntary one, but outside observers are careful to make the distinction.


  • Can this deprogramming process used by Chineses be extended to other group than Falun Gong?

Certainly. It can be applied to almost anything. The Chinese started their program at the beginning of last year, and currently they claim they have 340 "Falun Gong-related offenders" in custody, but if the program is a "success", in the government's term, it can easily be enlarged to other members and to other groups. This process has started since they proudly invited the press to display their success.

  • What's the difference between this "rehabilitation" and the old-time Communist "rehabilitation"?

One is a "de-conversion" process related to intangible subjective beliefs, the other is a "conversion" process related to more concrete political realities. Like for anything: destruction is more easy than construction. Ironically, deprogramming could very well be applied to the Communists themselves, except that it would be against the most basic human rights to forcibly do so in the first place, and therefore no human rights activists would engage in this. A totalitarian system don't care for such things. A system that has re-defined things according to his own cultic beliefs doesn't care of these either. France, who bought into the anti-cult belief system may very well follow a path similar to that of China: 1/ make a list of groups declared as "cults" 2/ make a law that would ban these groups "not for their believe but for their brainwashing behavior" 3/ jail those who now commit an offense adhering to an "illegal group" 4/ enforce "therapy" and "rehabilitation" of the kind seen above.

  • Could journalists and politicians likely be favorably impressed by the result of this "rehabilitation"?

Yes - in the anti-cult view, this outright violation of basic freedom of conscience and beliefs is redefined as "helping the victim" even if its "against themselves", and ex-members who in turn buy into the anti-cult mindset re-enforce the conviction of the public and authorities that they are actually doing something "good".

Reaction from the Falun Gong


More signs that deprogramming processes are used

"What do you think of Falun Gong?" a journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) asked two rows of "students" at a re-education camp for female Falun Gong practitioners.

"I think it's an evil cult," "It's a cult," former practitioners said one after another in front of microphones and cameras.

Suddenly, a woman said with a smile that "I still think it is good." The woman in her 40s looked strong and healthy.

This is consistent: membership in a group is usually ambiguous, and so is it for ex-members.

Other foreign reporters quickly came up to ask her questions. But the women's other fellow "students" showed no sign of being startled, because she was the only one in this group yet to be converted back to normal life.

"Everyone of us was just as stubborn as she is when we first came here," one said.

This is consistent as well. The de-converted ex-members and authorities have time on their side. They will continued their group pressure on the woman until she "gives in".

In one office, a policewoman was trying to persuade a Falun Gong activist to abandon her obsession with Li Hongzhi and his heretic theories, with the help of two former activists already transformed.

Again a sign that a deprogramming process is used, as de-converted ex-members are typically called in to help de-convert other members.

"The Falun Gong fallacies are mere deceptions," said Li Guoqin, in her 20s.

Foot-bullet propaganda

An error from Li Hongzhi has been to try and demonize the camp where his followers were being deprogrammed. Of course, in his view, only through torture one would be led to "forsake the truth", whereas it's more a matter of forcible persuation.

"Have you ever been beaten or suffered torture?" a journalist asked.

"No," she said with a firm voice, adding that "policewomen here are very kind to me, they care for my daily life and I am very grateful to them."

It has been alleged by Falun Gong organizations overseas that the Masanjia Re-education Camp, China's model camp for helping Falun Gong followers out of the mental control of Li Hongzhi, once undressed 18 of its inmates and tossed them into cells full of male prisoners. It was also claimed by the same organizations that disobedient inmates in Shenyang are beaten with electric batons, or sent to so called water cells or solitary confinement in a dark room.

"This is sheer fabrication, it's outrageous, and it insults our women police," Su Jing, head of the faculty, told the foreign press group right after they arrived.

Well, abuses certainly can happen, but it also is not the Chinese government's interest at this early stage, as a "switching" of Falun Gong member would vindicate the government's position more, and they know they can achieve that without ill-treatment of the group member. Quite on the contrary, treating them with care at the outset not only makes them look as benevolent, but also puts to lie the demonization tales their fellow members told them and thus makes them doubt the soundness of the group. Since the member is under total control of authorities, however, nothing guarantees that the "gentle" treatment would continue should he refuse to "think normally".

At the conclusion of the three-hour interview, Ned Colt with the NBC said that what he saw here "appeared to indicate that the rumors are not reality." And Chew Juai Fong with the Singapore Press Holdings said later in his story that "Falun Gong's attacks are not true."

John Leicester, the AP writer who speaks better Chinese than many Chinese do, said he has been writing Falun Gong stories for the past two years, but he has heard too much from the Falun Gong side.

He said he is not going to say who is right or wrong, but will tell what he saw. Such stories will be "interesting," he said.

The article of course comes from a pro-government newspaper, but, as per above, I believe there is some truth in the allegation that members are not ill-treated at the outset in those camps.

Su has been acclaimed by former Falun Gong activists for treating them as "sisters who went astray and were victimized by the Falun Gong cult." For the same reason, she was called "devil head" by the Falun Gong cult. She has received threatening letters every day. Her home phone number has been posted on the Falun Gong websites to encourage harassment calls.

Again, this is typical. What the paper calls "harassment" is probably the desperate pleas from other members to "bring her back in the fold". They cannot understand her change of allegiance in other term than through some kind of brainwashing or torture the government made her endure and they want to "save her", make her "be herself" again.

A note of humor

In classrooms, female police were lecturing on mental health, and laws on public demonstrations and protests. There were also many inmates who were attentively watching a video program on the origin of the universe.

According to Su Jing, the faculty chief, Li Hongzhi propagates too many myths on the creation of the universe as a foundation for his mental control over practitioners. And the English-language program with Chinese captions shown was expected to teach his followers the truth.

The Chinese government teaches the "truth" about the origin of the universe? All shown on video? Sure...

More articles

There are more articles along this line, showing the importance of the use of apostates for the anti-cult cause, but I did not have time yet to read them. You will find, though, that they are much along the above. Here they are:

Ex-practitioners Get New Life after Abjuration of Cult
"The life of many former Falun Gong practitioners have improved
after their abandoning the Falun Gong cult with the help of the

Former Cult Member Holds Solo Concert
"Zhang Qian, a second-year student at the Central Conservatory,
played the flute in a solo concert Monday."

"Keep Away From Falun Gong," Says Practitioner
"Believing in Li Hongzhi's Falun Gong will result in
self-extermination and people should keep away from it, said
Shao Jun, a former Falun Gong practitioner."

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